February 21, 2010

Pharma biggies disclose payments made to doctors

Even as government here is still debating a code with the drug industry to curb unethical practices like freebies and sponsoring exotic trips of doctors, pharma biggies worldwide have started disclosing payments made to physicians, including dollars spent on consulting gigs, clinical trials and even meals.

So money shelled out by companies to doctors for speaking and advising engagements, investigator-initiated research and gifts will also be posted on the companies' web-sites for all to see.

This is part of a revolutionary legislation, 'Physicians Payment Sunshine Act', under which Merck and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have already posted public disclosures about payments made to physicians in the last quarter of 2009. World's largest pharma company, Pfizer Inc will also make "publicly available compensation to healthcare professionals for consulting, speaking engagements and clinical trials in the first quarter this year for payments made post July 2009," says Pfizer's director worldwide communications, Kristen E Neese.

The issue has wide ramifications for an industry increasingly facing allegations of kickbacks, payments and gifts paid to influence prescriptions, and has had to pay billions as penalties for marketing drugs for unapproved uses.

The proposed legislation introduced by Senator Grassley is still pending in US Congress. "The objective is to bring in transparency and improve patients' understanding of how the pharma industry and healthcare providers work together to improve patient care," a GSK official said, and for a broader disclosure of financial relationships between the two.

The trend is gathering storm overseas with most companies endorsing the move to disclose such payments on their web-sites. In December last year, GSK disclosed payments made to US physicians and other healthcare professionals for speaking and advising services during April-June 2009.

Merck was among the first companies to endorse the Act in 2008. "As part of our voluntary commitment to increase transparency around all major aspects of business, beginning October 15, 2009, we have started disclosing payments to US-based medical and scientific professionals, who speak on behalf of our company or our products in programmes known as Merck Medical Forums. This is in-line with high ethical standards," said KG Ananthakrishnan head MSD India.

Companies globally have started to shed light on these payments, before the Act is passed under which they will have to make some mandatory disclosures. The disclosures will also include payments made to major academic institutions and research sites for clinical research. While, in India the pharma industry and government believe "in self-regulation".

A code which curbs unethical sales promotion and marketing expenses and bans non-medical and personal gifts has been drawn up by the industry, which is voluntary.

Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) DG Tapan Ray feels that "the goal (of curbing unethical industry practices) will be achieved through the amended Medical Council of India (MCI) regulations". The MCI, which can suspend or even cancel a doctor's licence in case of violation, recently amended guidelines under which all gifts, travel and hospitality to doctors was banned, and participating in medical research and affiliations allowed with certain riders.

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